Neolithic finds show that this area has been populated for at least 3,500 years. By the Bronze Age there are signs of settled communities.
The names of the villages are all of Norse origin:-
Ashby Askeby – the farm of Aski
Herringfleet Herlingflete – the flete or homestead of the sons of Herla
Somerleyton Sumarlithi’s tun – the ‘tun’ (fence) around Sumarlithi’s house.
Both Ashby and Herringfleet are sparsely populated with isolated crops of houses and today they each have a population of around 50. The peak of Ashby’s population was 110 in 1881. Somerleyton has a population of about 300 today, greatly reduced from its peak of 627 in 1851. The parish of Herringfleet used to include St Olaves (now in Norfolk) so comparison is not possible.
Most of the buildings in Herringfleet and Ashby have gradually evolved over time but the Somerleyton we see today is mainly a result of its modernisation and restoration during Samuel Morton Peto’s tenure of the Hall between 1844 and 1863.
The horseshoe-shaped Green surrounded by thatched houses with a school at one end and the village pump at the other was created and the main road was diverted to run past it. The Hall was reconstructed. The railway came (1847). The houses in Ashby Dell (1846) and the Brickfields cottages (1854 – 1875) were built. The church was extensively restored (1854).
In 1863 the Somerleyton Estate was purchased by Sir Francis Crossley, the great great grandfather of the current (2016) Lord Somerleyton. Today the Estate encompasses most of the land in the three parishes.